Nehemiah 1

Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book in the Hebrew text, because they tell the three-part story of Israel’s return from captivity in Persia. When the Hebrew text was translated into Greek (the Septuagint), this was retained as one book, called Esdras B (or 2 Esdras). It was not until Origen and, finally, Jerome in the 4th century A.D. that the book was finally split into two, each carrying the name of the respective writers.

In a similar manner to how Babylon took Israel captive in three sets (605, 597, 586 B.C.), Israel returned to her land under Persian permission in three sets as well (539, 457, 455 B.C.), each with a major person leading them – Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the last of the historical books of the Old Testament. Whereas the book of Ezra addresses the spiritual restoration of Israel – the initial return from captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple – Nehemiah focuses more on the political restoration, reestablishing Israel as a nation.

The dating of Nehemiah is important for at least a couple of reasons. First, there has been some dispute regarding which Persian king Nehemiah served. He should be understood as Artaxerxes I, the same man as in Ezra 7. Second, this helps interpret the 70 weeks of Daniel. Of all of the commands and allowances for the Jews to return to Israel after their captivity, only the command in Nehemiah 2 fits the Daniel 9:25 description “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem… with plaza and moat, but in distressful times.” This took place in 444 B.C. The rest of Daniel’s prophecy (e.g., the cutting off of Messiah) occurred in A.D. 33, just as promised.

Most of Nehemiah was written in the first person, that is, Nehemiah used the pronouns I, me, and my as he wrote of his experiences. He provided a firsthand account of the balance between his leadership skills and personality and God’s grace at work in and through him, as he led the Israelites in obedience to God, along with godly men like Ezra and Malachi.

Chapter one opens with a specific date, “in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year” (Nehemiah 1:1). This would have been 445-444 B.C., about 13 years after Ezra had gone to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:7). When his brother, Hanani, and some others made their way back from Jerusalem to Susa, Nehemiah naturally inquired about the status of his people and the holy city. Zerubbabel had gone there 539 B.C., almost a hundred years earlier (Ezra 1:1), in order to begin the restoration, but there was much trouble, and they did not do much beyond building the Temple. 1 Ezra brought another group back to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:7), but his time was spent purifying the people again and restoring the proper worship in the Temple.

Nehemiah was crushed at the news that “the wall of Jerusalem lies breached, and its gates have been burned down!” (Nehemiah 1:3) After nearly 100 years since Zerubbabel, he expected that Jerusalem would have been a strong, fully functioning city again. Like Daniel so many years before and Ezra just a dozen years earlier, Nehemiah fell down before God in prayer, confessing sin on behalf of his nation (Nehemiah 1:4-11).

In addition to his confession, his prayer included two other key points. First, he quoted from the Land Covenant God made with Israel in Deuteronomy 30, knowing that God had obligated himself to fulfill those promises (Nehemiah 1:8-10). Second, Nehemiah already had a plan to confront the king, so he asked God for success in that meeting (Nehemiah 1:11). He was not afraid to use the secular connections he had to accomplish God’s work.

Notes:

  1. The books of Ezra and Haggai recount some of the issues they had to deal with when helping the people build the Temple.

Jeremiah 25

Chapter twenty-five took place 23 years into Jeremiah’s ministry, in the year that Nebuchadnezzar took his first captives from Jerusalem (605 B.C.). He claimed that he had warned the leaders and people of Judah for that long to repent, turning back to God, but they did not listen (Jeremiah 25:1-11). Unlike the past messages which warned of potential judgment, this message revealed that Nebuchadnezzar was indeed coming.

The promise in Jeremiah 25:11-14 is significant in Israel’s history and prophecy. According to Daniel 9:2, Daniel was reading this very passage when he discovered that God promised that Israel’s exile would be only 70 years. Daniel realized this was quickly approaching and prayed that God’s deliverance of his people would be fulfilled soon. Daniel 5 tells the story of the fulfillment of Babylon’s downfall, when the Persian king, Cyrus, overthrew Belshazzar in 539 B.C. (see Ezra 1:1)

Although God used pagan nations to punish his own people, he also declared that they would be punished for their wickedness as well. The rest of this chapter records God’s promise that all the nations would be punished for their anti-Semitic actions. God spoke to Jeremiah in a vision, showing him a hand holding a cup of wine (Jeremiah 25:15-16). God said this represented his wrath. Jeremiah was to make all of the nations of the earth drink from it, showing that all nations would suffer God’s punishment. In addition to Judah, God specifically mentioned Egypt; Uz (northern Africa or Arabian Peninsula); the Philistines; Edom, Moab, and Ammon (distant relatives of Israel); Lebanon; the Phoenicians; other Arabian desert tribes; Babylon; Persia; and “all the kings of the north, whether near or far from one another; and all the other kingdoms which are on the face of the earth” (Jeremiah 25:17-29). The final verses are God’s personal guarantee that this will one day certainly take place (Jeremiah 25:30-39). This will be fulfilled at the end of the Tribulation, when no one will escape God’s punishment (Matthew 25:31-46).

Esther 9 and 10

Chapter nine is the true climax of this story; everything else simply laid the foundation for the great day of the attack. On the appointed day, there was a great war, and everyone expected that the Jews would be no match for the king’s army, even though they were allowed to defend themselves (Esther 9:1-10). However, the greatest plot twist of them all was that the Jews were actually winning! Part of the reason for this was that many of the king’s own men had begun to help the Jews out of fear of Mordecai. In the capital alone, the Jews killed 500 men, including Haman’s ten sons.

Naturally, the king was interested in the results of the day (Esther 9:11-17). Upon hearing about the 500 killed in Susa and Haman’s sons, he asked Esther if she had any further requests. She asked for two more things. First, she requested that the law be extended one more day, just inside the capital city. This would definitively remove any anti-Semites from the king’s presence, so nothing like this could happen again. Second, she asked that Haman’s sons be hung on poles for all to see and remember his treachery. The king agreed, and on the second day another 300 men were killed by the Jews. Across the empire, 75,000 enemies were killed on the first day, and the Jews outside of Susa rested on the second day. The writer noted three times that, although the law allowed them to do so, the Jews did not confiscate the property of the people they killed (Esther 9:10, 15, 16). This was an act of grace on their part.

From this would-be massacre came a great Jewish holiday (Esther 9:18-32). Named after the pur that Haman used to decide the day of their deaths, Purim (the plural of pur) was commanded by Esther and Mordecai to be celebrated annually on the anniversary of the Jews’ salvation. For two days each year, the Jewish people around the world remember their potential annihilation and subsequent deliverance. This usually takes place in March, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar on the Jewish calendar (Esther 9:21). Celebration is to include “banqueting, happiness, sending gifts to one another, and providing for the poor” (Esther 9:22). Traditionally, the book of Esther is read in the synagogues during Purim, with Mordecai’s name often eliciting loud cheers and Haman’s name being drowned out each time with booing, hissing, and other loud noises.

Chapter ten contains only three verses, a short ending to the story. King Ahasuerus reigned for another eight years (for a total of twenty years) and accomplished many great things for the Persian Empire and people, including some major construction projects. As for Mordecai, he continued to be a great ruler under Ahasuerus. Although nothing else is definitively known about him, Persian records tell of a Marduka who served this king. Since the king was assassinated, it stands to reason that Mordecai either died by that time or was also deposed in the coup.

Thus, the story comes to an end with the Jewish people held in high regard and free of fear. Ezra 7:1 picks up the narrative only seven years after Ahasuerus’ death with the second major Jewish return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:7-8).